Friday, February 27, 2015

10 Games, 10 Times: Iron Ivan's Disposable Heroes / Coffin for Seven Brothers

Soviets try to get their tanks across the table in a later game in the series.
i had played DH/C7B a handful of times before, initially not really digging it, but later coming to decide that it might well be my favorite set or 1:1 WWII gaming, for squad to a platoon per side. Yet, I hardly played it thereafter, and when i did, it was primarily infantry only conflicts, hence its inclusion on my 10 Games, 10 times challenge list.  

The first few games were straight up infantry affairs to help me shake off the cobwebs and figure out where I was forgetting rules.
Backing up, for those who don't know, DH/C7B is a 1:1 set of WWII skirmish rules, where the basic unit is the fire team. It's recommended for up to a platoon per side, with support, although you can extend it further if you have time or multiple players.

My sole gripe with the rules is the use of markers for tracking activation, pinned, acquisition status (for armor), and # of armor penetration hits. You also need some way of tracking the number of destroyed units for each side, as these, plus the # of currently pinned units effect the initiative score.

So many markers. The white cards are blinds - I used Platoon Forward for many scenarios, along with its enemy force generation method. This is from one of the last games I played in the series - after I had mounted the figures to 3 inch squares.
However, so many games require markers, that it seems like short of an all or nothing approach to hits, or off table tracking (difficult in a 1 figure = 1 man game with more than a handful of figures per side), there really isn't a better option.

So, other than that, the game has a lot going for it although it took me 5 or so games to really see how good they were, as I kept forgetting rules in the early games or situations just didn't come up:
  • The Guts score - it effects both initiative and morale, including the ability to rally. It's a mix of quality and motivation.
  • simplified movement
    • if one figure reaches cover, the whole group does
    • move one figure, then place the rest around that figure, rather than measuring for all
    • terrain does not effect movement rates of infantry
    • Movement rate determines what additional actions a unit may perform and any penalties
  • Snap (opportunity) fire is restricted to one enemy unit.
  • Using grenades to supplement a charge is abstracted and works quite smoothly
  • Taking fire, regardless of result, triggers a Guts check - this seems right to me, but surprisingly few systems I have played incorporate it
  • It is difficult to score a hit on a target in cover - based on what i've read about the expenditure of ammo in WWII to hit a target, this too seems right to me.
  • The way it handles armor.
I wanted to really go big,both because i wanted to see if it made a big difference in my enjoyment, and also as a way to see if I could at some point eliminate a table and the space it takes up. Playing on the floor was loads of fun but no more so than a table, as it turns out.

One thing that has flummoxed me about some other systems at the 1:1 scale has been armor: either they are too simple, and the type of vehicle does not matter, or too complex to the point of having to use calculus to understand the tables. DH/C7B's system for attacks by and against armor sits somewhere in the middle and I rather like it. It has enough flavor to get a feel for the period and the differences in equipment, but not so complicated that every rivet matters.

I had to fudge any vehicle that wasn't a tank, since no stats are included in the core rules beyond a vehicle or two per army.
One  downside is the mix of roll low/roll high is somewhat annoying - you want to roll low always -to acquire a target, to hit, to pass a Guts check, but  when you're rolling for armor penetration, then you want to roll high. 

It's hard to see, but the PZ. IV had just made it onto the table when one of the T-34s brewed it up on a single hit This is less frequent an occurrence than my pictures might relate.
The other is that the core rules, which contain the "big four" nations, do not include much in the way of vehicles for these. As such, I had to fudge a bit on anything not remotely covered. The force supplements contain the desired data but those are additional purchases.

The core rules do, however, cover tank riders!
Once again, the 10 Games, 10 Times Challenge comes through, and I have a new understanding and appreciation for this game. That said, I also have come to realize, that i prefer 1:1 games with 3-5 figures, rather than squad to platoon sized engagements. 

As a bonus, I suspect these rules could work well for that - treating each figure as their own fire team and disregarding the man-alone rule and the "only 1/2 figures per unit can shoot" rule. I may try them in that respect at some later date, but Five Men in Normandy awaits first.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

One Hour Wargames (OHW): Scenario 7 : Flank Attack (2)

Last night, I was in the mood to play a wargame after taking the picture of my US troops earlier in the day. I opted to give Morschauser's Modern rules a  going for my 2nd play through of Scenario 7: Flank Attack from Neil Thomas's One-hour Wargames (OHW).

But of course, I couldn't leave the rules alone, and ended up modifying them:

  • using Featherstone's tank damage rules
  • my own morale check from Hot Chow!
  • Thomas's limiting units either attack or move but not both, per turn 
Germans (Blue): infantry x 3, ATG x 1, tanks x 2
US (Red): infantry x 4, mortar x 1, tank x 1

Infantry had 4 Strength Points each, the rest had 2. In Morschauser, this dictates how many dice are rolled to attack as well .

Per the scenario, Red army crammed onto the large hill. I ran out of space so the US mortar is off the hill to the rear.

Two Blue units were situated on the hill South, while to the west, the bulk of the Blue force made the flank attack. Red was unprepared for this, and so Blue went first each turn.

FYI, The road to the west indicates the edge of the playing area (OHW scenarios are designed for 3' x 3')

On the first turn the flanking force scored some hits on the US platoons on the hill's east flank, but on the US half of the turn, the Sherman unit proved its worth again:

I rolled the 2 dice (1 per strength point), and scored double 6s (in Morschauser, tanks hit on 4 or 6). Since that's two hits, I used the method from Hot Chow! adding +1 to the 2d6 roll. And rolled an 11!

The German Panzer unit was completely eliminated in one go. Things were not looking better for Germans on this replay.

A few turns later, the US unit on the left charge the German unit on the hill (mostly as a way to try Morschauser's close combat rules):

Both units had been softened up by shooting, but the Germans came out on top  and the US unit was destroyed.

At the same time, to the east of the hill things were going from bad to worse for the Germans. They lost their ATG, and then one of the infantry units in the woods fell (this triggered morale checks on their next activation). Emboldened by this, the US turned their attention to that flank.

Although they passed their morale check, the remaining infantry on the flank was destroyed, and the PZ. unit took fire and ended up retreating two full moves (rolled a 10 on the 2d6).

A last ditch charge from the southern hill lead to the elimination of the last infantry unit.  And the tank, failed its morale check.

I opted to call the game as the odds were very much against the PZ IV taking the hill.


I will play this scenario again, with the same OOB, but instead of trying to sit back and shoot (which is a terrible idea really), I'm going to charge the hill with minimal covering fire. I'll also use a re-working of Hot Chow! I'm calling "Hot Chow! Second Helpings."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Something for the Folks Back Home : 1/32 US Force on the Move

Somewhere in Europe, my US force advances for the camera so the folks back home can be proud of their boys:

The whole enchilada! 
Vehicles are a mix of CTS (tanks) and Forces of Valor (jeep and half-track). Figures are a mix of Toy Soldiers of San Diego, W. Britain, and some Ultimate Soldier (1 mortar crew and the listening post + crew). The camera man is King & Country.

Infantry are based two figures on 3" squares. These can be formed into three-base units of  2-rifle bases and one LMG base (this is true for most of my 1/32 WWII stuff now, save British paras, Waffen SS and unit leaders). This way, i can use 3 bases + 1 leader to field a 7 figure squad (one rifle team of 2 bases and one LMG team of one base) for games like Disposable Heroes/ Coffin for Seven Brothers, but I can also use them in games where 1 base = 1 squad, 1 platoon, etc.


Waiting for paint :
1 1/32 Classic Toy Soldier.105mm gun + crew
1 1/35 M-10 Tank Destroyer (waiting for assembly too!)

In order to field a force for any of the various combinations in Neil Thomas's One Hour Wargames, I need a 2nd 105mm gun. Fortunately, Father's Day is just a few months away! For now, in the rare event I roll a force with 2 anti-tank guns, i"ll either commandeer the Russian gun, or substitute the MG. 

I also have two TSSD mortars and HMGs with crews, and a number of unpainted TSSD figures, which I'll eventually paint, but they aren't top priority.

Monday, February 16, 2015

My Haul from the 38th Annual Atlanta Model Figure Show

On Saturday, I took in the 38th Annual Atlanta Model Figure Show.

Admittedly, I went for the vendors, not the displays.

There were plenty of deals to be had, just as I hoped:

blurry because i was so excited.

Back to front, left to right:

  • Ultimate Soldier 1:32 U.S. Listening Post
  • Forces of Valor 1/32 U.S. Jeep
  • Tanks (Russian manufacturer) 1/32 WWII Russian Maxim and Crew
  • Marx farm animals 1/32?
  • 2x Classic Toy Soldirs PZ. IV,left one is missing turret HMG.
  • King & Country catalog
  • Armies in Plastic 1/32 French Foreign Legion
  • 2x King & Country 1/30 British Paratroopers
  • 1x King & Country 1/30 Polish Paratrooper
  • Armies in Plastic 1/32 Arabs with Rifles
  • King & Country 1/30 U.S. Army Cameraman
  • Armies in Plastic 1/32 WWI French
  • Classic Toy Soldiers Sandbags

 The camera man was a total indulgence (more so than the rest of this hobby) and one of the few things I paid retail price for. I see  him making an appearance on just about every battlefield.

I wanted the farm animals for some background dressing when attacking farm houses, but this guy, well, I have plans for him! \m/

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Solo Role-Playing Series Part 6: Handling Open Ended Questions

We now resume our regularly scheduled post in this series. For those hoping for some kind of wargaming content, fear not. Painting and playing are happening and I'll post some soon.

Handling Open Ended Questions 

It won't be long before you'll start to want a system to fill in the blanks about the world for you, to turn more of the game master role over to a system.

Often the kind of info we are seeking relates to detail - such as personality or appearance - but, it can also be about exact nature of the "scene", the reason for adventure, or contents of a room, for which we have no particular idea or when we feel like our ideas are stale and uninteresting. 

Random Generators Are Your Friend

Random Generators allow you to answer these kind of open ended questions and for our purposes there are two types: the first gives concrete results that require little interpretation, while the other is something best described as oracular.

Concrete Result Generators

The first type of generator is akin to the Wandering Monster and Treasure tables in Old School fantasy games. Random dungeon generators (of which I am enamored) fall into this category as well. Your rules of choice may include many of these, the 1e DMG is chock full, as are more recent releases like Stars Without Number

Releases like Ruins of the Under City and Scarlet Heroes present their own approaches to solo play but you can simply use their tables as part of your own toolkit.

And, of course, many such generators are available online. Among my favorites are:

Although the result may require further die rolls to determine 
additional details, these do not require any particular inspiration to generate a usable, game-able result. 

In addition to numbered lists to roll on, there are cards and dice that produce specific results that can be commandeered for this purpose, such as the Pathfinder item decks and Inwkwells Dungeonmorph dice

Nearly every NPC generator contains descriptors of appearance, personality and motivation - Chaotic Shiny is the one I use most often because they often include anachronistic hobbies. Several companies manufacture NPC card decks.

You can embellish the results as desired with further questions posed to your toolkit or with whatever seems enjoyable for the game you are playing, but often the initial result is enough.

For an adventure start, you you might want to check out S.John Ross' Big List of RPG Plots. Either put the plots on index cards (or print and cut up) and draw one at random, or number the list and roll. You'll need to flesh them out, but they're a good way to get your character/s going when you're at a loss for a kick-off adventure.

Behold the Oracle

The second method, I find, is more interesting in that it does not provide a definitive result that two different players would interpret in similar ways. 

What I mean is, while gold coins might bring up an image in your head different than mine, we are, more often than not, both thinking of something either of us would recognize as a gold coin. 

However, if, for the contents of a chest, we drew cards from a tarot deck and the Fool card came up, it’s unlikely we will come up with even close to the same interpretation.

This is the power of the oracle result : even we are unlikely to interpret the result the same way the next time we encounter it.

Tables, dice, cards and online generators are available as oracles, and you can certainly create your own. They feature words, usually abstract concepts, but not always, or images which, if they say 1,000 words as purported, is quite a value at any price.

Mythic: GME includes two word lists, a Subject and Action list. A roll on each is combined and the player interprets the result. WilderWords and Dungeon Words are two of my favorites as they suit the kind of gaming I do often. They do have more concrete results, so I prefer to roll 2-3 times and combine the concepts into one. 

Writer’s have been using similar tables at least since the 1930s (you can sometimes find these on Etsy or Ebay) for inspiration, plot, and character creation.

As mentioned, tarot cards can be drafted into service in this regard, and there are decks themed to just about everything so you can find one that works best for you. Similarly, many illustrated playing card decks can fulfill this role. Search for a treasure trove of both.

Other divination tools like runes or the I-Ching might work for you as well, as long as the results inspire your brain to make sense out of the result.
Finally, there is, of course, the much ballyhooed Rory's Cubes. If they are not the most popular tool among solo gamers after Mythic: GME, then they are certainly in the top 3. 

Rory's cubes are dice with simple, bold icons on them, sold in packs of 9, with several 3-dice per pack supplements. The icons are clear, and often, not at all obviously related to what you're doing. That said, they push you to think outside of your comfort zone and to come up with interesting bits for your games. They are conveniently available as an app as well for those who prefer that.

The RPGSolo website has their own set of story cubes available for free - just click on the button marked MAG (for Mark's Adventure Glyphs). These are created specifically for role playing. In fact, the whole site is dedicated to solo roleplaying, incorporating many of the tools already described.

Tip: Mythic suggests something like 10 seconds to figure out what the Subject - Action words mean, and then roll again or just pick something. I find 3 seconds is about my limit before I roll again. Don't get hung up on making the oracle result work. If it's not instantaneous or nearly so, roll/draw again. We want inspiration here, not perspiration.

In the next post, we'll look at some of these in action.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Solo Role Playing Series Bonus Feature: Borrowing from Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering

We interrupt the intended sequence of posts to bring you another alternative for answering questions about the game world that propel your adventure forward.

This option relies on you in your role as part-time GM but also provides some direction for each possible result. As the subject of the post states, it comes from Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering by Robin Law. 

In the section on improvising,he suggests:
  • Imagine the most obvious result 
  • Imagine the most challenging result
  • imagine the most surprising result
  • Imagine the result most pleasing to the player.
(Laws, 2002, p. 30)

You then dice between them:

You might quibble the odds assigned to each option, so tweak away.

This method allows for surprise, but, like the method I recommended, or the Featherstone and Matrix methods, it follows logically from the game world and so doesn't leave us scratching our heads.

So, for example, in my example where I am seeking the old man who gives out quests, I ask, "does the bartender know where i can find said old man?"

1-2 : Yes he does, but I need to buy a drink before he'll tell me.
3 : He doesn't but the mad monk knows and he can be found at the temple. Good luck getting in dressed like that.
4 : He replies, "Old man? Is that what they are calling me?"
5-6 : "You're sitting right next to him."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Solo Role-Playing Series Part 5: Short Example of Play Using Our Toolkit So Far

Returning to the fact that we have a means to answer questions about the world, let's take a look at how this might work out in practice. 

In this example, I will use a set of RPG rules and primarily stick to the the method I recommended previously for addressing questions about the world. 

1 yes and
2-3 yes but
4-5 no but
6 no and

One thing we have not discussed is note keeping and journals - I'll get to them but suffice it to say, recording something about your play is a good idea. I like to record notes about the narrative, the mechanics, and my own personal thoughts, and then later write it up in a coherent manner for my blog, but there are many other ways to go about it. 

In this case I will do it as I ordinarily do, but I'll show you the whole process here.

First, I need a system and a character. 

I'm going to use Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying, and because my ego is boundless, I will use my own USR: Moldvay Era Classes document to place the game into a fantasy setting. I just read Wizard of Lemuria and one of the many Conan books is waiting in the wings, so I'll go with a fighter, imagining him more barbarian from the North and less plate-clad knight of a pseudo-Europe. 

Lugar of the Frozen Wastes: Action: d10, Wits: d8, Ego: d6. HP: 8 (not terribly impressive - thank goodness this is a one off!)
Specialisms: Melee Weapon Mastery (Action + 2), Smashing things (doors, chests, etc.) (Action +2), dodge (action +2)

Don't worry if you're not familiar with the system - it's pretty straight forward. One of the nice parts is that it has a system for handling uncontested attribute tests, for actions that are not automatic successes.

Getting started can be the hard part - later, when I discuss methods for handling open ended questions we'll look at generating these starts randomly. 

For now, I decide to rip off Seven Samurai, with a village under threat by bandits. 

Also, since this is intended to be a one-shot, I will follow a 5-Room Dungeon model, using Scene 1 to set the stage and get the quest, Scene 2 to to handle the investigation/travel/roleplay, Scene 3 to be an encounter designed to drain my resources, Scene 4 to be a big encounter, and Scene 5 to be the treasure/reward/or plot twist.

Scene 1: 

Note: This is all me acting in my role as the GM. I'm setting up the first adventure for our protagonist - and it's pretty much a railroad to get here.

Lugar arrived in the village of Argalia, tired and somewhat short of coin. The people eyed him suspiciously - perhaps it was the minimal attire, not more than a loin cloth - and the great sword which swung from his hip. In the tavern, where the only thing that mattered was if he had money to pay for his tab, he found a more welcoming atmosphere. Indeed, there one of the elders of the village approached him and offered him a reward if he would help defend them against bandits who ride down from the hills, steal their harvest, raid their tills, and steal their women. They will probably arrive within the week. With money running short, he accepted.

Heavy handed, sure, but it works. 

Scene 2:

The first thing that comes to my mind is that Lugar wants to know if there are any capable fighters in the town that he can use either as a raiding force of his own, or in a defensive way.

In my notes, it looks like this:

Lugar wants to know if any capable fighters in the village . Are there? 

I roll a d6 and get a 5. "No, But" and I decide that means that, while there aren't any capable fighters in the village, the people are more than willing to help. In fact, some of the younger men see it as a way to become heroes and advance themselves socially.

My notes: 5 - no but the people are willing to help in any way they can. Young men see this as a way demonstrate their physical strength and courage and to advance socially. They don't understand the threat.

Lacking the possibility of a raiding force, I decide that Lugar examines the village layout and will attempt to identify weak spots and inform the villagers as to how to address them.

My notes: Is Lugar able to determine which areas are the most vulnerable? 

I have two options here - I can use the d6 method, or I can look at the rules I am  using and treat this as a non-contested attribute check. There is no right or wrong here. Since I would set this at Medium difficulty for his Wits score, that puts success at slightly better than 50/50 (4+ on a 1d8)

My notes: Wits check. Med. 4+ - 2. Crap.

Yes, the word crap is in my notes because it popped into my head as soon as i rolled the die and I'll want to remember that when I read my notes later.

Worse, because this is basically a hard "No." answer, I may have painted myself into a corner. So I take on the role of the GM for a minute and note:

Lugar made a check of the village perimeter, attended by a young woman of about 18, hair long and black and skin pale like the snow of his homeland, assigned to take notes on his recommendations. He could scarcely concentrate.

I decide I still need to do more to prepare for a coming raid by the bandits and so Lugar will inquire of the young lady if she knows where and how the bandits enter the town.

My notes: Does the young woman know where and how the bandits enter town?

I don't know anything about her - in fact she didn't exist until i needed means to explain away the fact that Lugar noticed nothing he could fix.

I roll a d6 and hope for the best.

My notes: 3 - Yes, but she is afraid to tell him.

My reaction to this in real life is, "Wait, why is she afraid?"

Just like that, I have less of an idea of what's going on.

My notes: Is she afraid of spies? 4, no but, she darts her eyes to an old well.

That popped into my head for no apparent reason, but I could see it plain as day, and so I went with it.

Lugar decides he will try to schmooze her into telling him more.

My notes for this scene look like this:

Is he able to schmoozer her for more info? Wits vs Wits.
YoungWoman Wits Stat: 
1- d4
2-3 - d6
4-5 - d8
6 - d10


I roll and record the results of his d8 vs her d10:

Lugar: 6, Young Woman: 10


Lugar will have a talk with the village elder back at the tavern and see if he knows anything.

Now, let's say my time playing is up there and I have to continue that scene next session. In between, I'd review my notes and write it up as a narrative, interspersed with mechanics because people have repeatedly told me that's what they want to see. If you're doing this in a document that you aren't sharing publicly, you certainly can eliminate the mechanics.

The Write-up:

Lugar arrived in the village of Argalia, tired and somewhat short of coin. The people eyed him suspiciously - perhaps it was the minimal attire, not more than a loin cloth - and the great sword which swung from his hip. In the tavern, where the only thing that mattered was if he had money to pay for his tab, he found a more welcoming atmosphere. Indeed, there one of the elders of the village approached him and offered him a reward if he would help defend them against bandits who ride down from the hills, steal their harvest, raid their tills, and steal their women. They will probably arrive within the week. With money running short, he accepted.

His first inquiry to the elder was in regards to any organized militia or capable fighters among the villagers. 

[Are there?  5 - no but the people are willing to help in any way they can. Young men see this as a way demonstrate their physical strength and courage and to advance socially. They don't understand the threat.]

The old man shook his head, and not without a touch of shame, replied in the negative. Not one to give up easily, Lugar asked if he might be take around the village perimeter to inspect it for weak points.

Later that afternoon, the elder introduced Lugar to a young woman, who would show him around and record his recommendations. 

And so, Lugar made a check of the village perimeter, attended by a young woman of about 18, hair long and black and skin pale like the snow of his homeland. 

[Is Lugar able to determine which areas are the most vulnerable? Wits check. Med. 4+ - 2. Crap.]

Unfortunately, he could scarcely concentrate, and as a consequence noted no areas of particular concern. Still, he knew he hadn't been concentrating and so made an effort to learn something of the bandits.

"Do you know by what way these curs come?"

[Does the young woman know where and how the bandits enter town? 3 - Yes, but she is afraid to tell him ]

Lugar could tell she knew something but she seemed afraid to speak. Lowering his booming voice to a near inaudible whisper he said, "Do you fear spies among your own?"

[Is she afraid of spies? 4, no but, she darts her eyes to an old well.]

Her reply was silence, but she had darted her eyes towards a field. When Lugar looked in that same direction, he noticed an old, dilapidated stone well. 

"Woman, you have nothing to fear. I have stood knee deep in the blood of thousands of enemies of this land. My whole life I have devoted to the protection of the old, the weak, and the fair. And you are fairest of all." Lugar laid it on thick in an effort to get her to open up.

[Is he able to schmoozer her for more info? Wits vs Wits.
YoungWoman Wits Stat: 
1- d4
2-3 - d6
4-5 - d8
6 - d10


Lugar: 6, Young Woman: 10


It came as no surprise to Lugar that his efforts were in vain; a beautiful woman like her undoubtedly heard lines like these every day and was immune to their intended effect.

Lugar thanked the woman for her time and headed back to the tavern to see if the elder was still there. He had questions that needed answering.